Looking for places to stay in Kent? Want a restaurant-with-rooms in West Malling? Read our review of Amano, and check out more places to eat in Kent here…
Amano in a nutshell
Amano (‘by hand’) is a lively and sophisticated Italian restaurant-with-rooms in the pretty Kent market town of West Malling. Other than the carefully crafted food, the main draw is a swish new orangery (where dinner is served) and its seriously cool sloping glass roof.
Trendy, chic and modern, with black panelling, subdued blues and greys, plus bursts of green from hairy ferns dotted throughout. That glass ceiling lends itself to brilliantly bright breakfasts, as well as atmospheric evenings – it’s like eating al fresco, stars and all, only without chilly breezes. Amano’s popularity is such that it’s buzzing from 6pm, not least at the smart marble-topped bar near the entrance. Behind this is the kitchen, staffed almost entirely by Italians. Below is a purpose-built cellar, where fresh pasta is made every day, while upstairs are a handful of bedrooms.
Which room should I book at Amano?
All four bedrooms are petite but comfortable with a supply of homemade biscotti, Hypnos mattresses, slick shower rooms and flat-screen TVs. The decor – classy timber panelling, muted colours, no fuss – matches that of the restaurant downstairs, but with the addition of heritage radiators and original sash windows. Pick the biggest, Sophia, for its roll-top bath and superking-size bed. Being above a restaurant, you can’t expect absolute silence in the evenings but staff are sympathetic to the issue, and quick to respond (when we mentioned being able to hear the restaurant door shutting the problem was swiftly resolved with a sturdy doorstop).
The food and drink
The menu is traditionally Italian in format (think starter, a small plate of pasta, meat or fish, then dessert) but, being in Britain, there’s no pressure to order all four courses. You could settle for just one, larger, serving of pasta. But that would be ill-advised; you’ll want as much time as possible to soak up the vivacious atmosphere. Linger over cake-like focaccia and buttery nocellara olives, paper-thin rose veal with parmesan shavings and al dente asparagus, perhaps a bowl of thick-cut pappardelle (you can taste the egg yolk) tossed with a glossy wild mushroom and truffle sauce, with a side of multi-coloured tomato salad. Then, feast on whole, juicy sea bream stuffed with lemon and rosemary before ending with a rich, six-layered tiramisu.
As for drinks, pre-dinner cocktails include a Crodino spritz (Crodino, that wonderfully savoury and bitter aperitif, is hard to find outside Italy) and Il Bacio, made with Italian Sabatini gin, St Germain, limoncello and egg white. There are nine different Italian gins to try in all, and the lengthy wine list is exclusively Italian. A memorable glass of crimson-coloured Caranto Veneto Pinot Noir, confidently matched to both lamb and bream by a knowledgeable waiter, managed to be both buttery smooth and refreshing.
Eating in an orangery so bathed in sunlight makes for a rejuvenating start to the day. Amano takes pride in its breakfasts, offering everything from poached eggs (they wobble on top of focaccia instead of muffins) to cured ham with whole burrata, and homemade granola with vanilla panna cotta. There are smoothies made with coconut milk or Greek yogurt, too, and exciting fruit juices – try fresh mint, apple and ginger.
What else can foodies do?
Amano’s sister restaurant, The Swan, is just up the road and its bar is a great place to start an evening. When a new mixologist joins, they’re encouraged to add their own concoction to the cocktail list – Sweet Caroline, for example, is a heady mix of cinnamon rum, cognac, maraschino and grapefruit bitters.
Is it family friendly?
Everyone’s welcome, and families are just as present as couples at the restaurant, but it might be a bit of a squeeze to fit a cot in the bedrooms (bar Sophia).
Co-owner Nick Levantis is a friendly face, ready and waiting to suggest the best walking tour of West Malling (including the tumbling cascade in front of St Mary’s Abbey, once painted by Turner).
Words by Charlotte Morgan
Photographs by John Carey